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Multi-sport complex called possible 'jewel' for Franklin

Developer has big dreams for Crystal Ridge

June 20, 2012

A proposed sports complex could transform a community "eyesore," attract state and regional tournaments and generate economic growth in Franklin, according to the project developer and city officials.

"We've got a proposal that needs to get backing, needs to get support and needs to become reality. This will put Franklin on the map," said Mayor Tom Taylor, who asked city officials to consider plans for a multi-sport complex at Crystal Ridge, 7900 W. Crystal Ridge Drive.

The project would include four senior-level baseball diamonds and at least two youth Little League diamonds, which could be used for womens and girls fast pitch softball. Each diamond would have lighting and concessions, but a restaurant and bar also were being considered as part of the plan.

The complex also would include areas for skiing and mountain biking, as well as terrain parks for snowboarding and BMX bicycling. Programs would include youth baseball clinics, female fast pitch softball, adult men's hardball, men's and co-ed softball and youth and adult soccer.

A second phase of the project would include a 22,000-square-foot indoor complex with batting cages and soccer fields. Improvements to the existing ski hill and chalet were proposed for a third phase of the project.

Franklin resident and businessman Mike Zimmerman presented the idea Tuesday, when he asked the Common Council to consider matching his personal investment of $3 million for the tentatively named Rock Sports Complex.

"I want this to be a partnership with Milwaukee County Parks and Recreation and the city of Franklin," Zimmerman said. "... It's a unique opportunity to turn an eyesore into a destination property. I call it the perfect storm. The county has a need. The city has a need. I have a passion."

City money not required

Zimmerman, who runs six health care businesses, said he came up with the idea after driving past Crystal Ridge each day.

"This is an effort to give back to the community," said Zimmerman, who grew up in Franklin and lives in the Stonehedge subdivision.

Zimmerman said he hopes to have fields in place by next spring. City funding would be helpful but not essential to meeting that goal.

"We don't need city of Franklin money. We can build a complex for $3 million. We can have a destination site with a few more funds, but we don't need it to pull it off," Zimmerman said.

Excitement builds

It could be weeks before city officials vote on whether to approve taxpayer money for the project, but the mayor said he hoped they would consider it.

"I've been advocating for this type of development for years," Taylor said.

Taylor estimated that state and regional interest in the park, which would include synthetic infields and natural turf outfields for the baseball diamonds, could fill 6,000 hotel rooms each year.

"It creates all kinds of economic opportunities. ... This entire project, I think, will be a magnet for future development," said Alderman Doug Schmidt, who also supported the plan.

Council President Steve Taylor wondered if the project could set off a "chain reaction" of business growth and revitalization, while Alderwoman Kristen Wilhelm wondered if finding a way to connect the complex to nearby 76th Street could be a step toward creating a downtown center for the city.

"This will be very much the jewel this community has been looking for for a long time," Alderman Ken Skowronski said. "I will give it all my support."

Aldermen Tim Solomon and Steve Olson also supported the idea, although Olson encouraged city officials to carefully weigh any outlay of public funds.

"Let's get excited, but let's not go crazy," he said.

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